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Do Like Chazz, Do Like Madonna
by Marcos E. Gonzalez
Actor CHAZZ PALMINTERI told a story on Charlie Rose about his early days in the business one night. He was recollecting how his friends and colleagues, struggling thespians like himself, were such good actors that he was in genuine awe of their ability. Compared to them, Chazz honestly proclaimed, his fellow actors were substantially more talented than he was. But it was he, not them, who eventually began to land a steady stream of movie parts, roles that over time would establish him as a serious actor in the business and ultimately, with his appearance in Woody Allen's BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, gain him recognition as one of the finer actors working today when he received an Academy Award nomination. Chazz was not bragging but on his way to making a point that had a decidedly Calvinist ring to it. One of the central reasons for his success, he went on to say, was his commitment to the craft and his eagerness to work hard at it. His friends were talented, he observed, but lazy, casual in their pursuit of success. Chazz on the other hand never stopped trying to improve as an actor, never missed an audition, and always made the most of an opportunity. When he began to get roles, he always arrived at work prepared and went about the day in a professional manner, privileged at the opportunity. Talent, in this case acting talent, he pointed out, is but one component to achieving success, and no more important than commitment to your craft, professionalism when working at it, and the all-important catalyst, drive.
Which brings me to MADONNA, that magnificent personification of perseverance - the material girl who was nearly swept away by her own hubris (the key word being nearly,) and want of talent. She stands as a shining example of a puzzling phenomenon occasionally found in showbiz, the baffling case of actors or performers of dubious skill appearing on television or the big screen or on the radio. The pesky presence of this below average lot probably owes a lot to Chazz's take on the general merits of a hearty work ethic, an aggressive trait possessed by, surprise, the one and only Madonna. She is perhaps the greatest example of a marginally talented performer attaining extraordinary success by sheer determination. She has, by a mere cursory examination of her creative output, miraculously willed herself to succeed in spite of her dreadful acting and insipid "singing." (Hey wait a second!..what about a Faustian deal?...ah, never mind.) Mightily, Madonna has defied her considerable artistic shortcomings and managed to steadily cash in for nearly twenty years while proving over and over that a hopelessly ordinary voice and extremely limited acting ability can do nothing to erode her popularity, her high status as a celebrity and her dogged ability to keep working. Recently, however, she has caused movie audiences all over the world to repeatedly cringe and turn away, and in some cases, do a frantic sign of the cross (followed by loud prayer - usually a requiem of some type). But setbacks and failures mean nothing to Madonna. You don't count strikes against a Goddess - they just keep on swinging. Indeed, she will sing and grace the screen, large and small, as long as she pleases because there's no stopping that Herculean will and that nuclear reactor of an ego. In the end, though, Madonna really is a hopeful figure and inspiring symbol to all actors and performers who are somewhat insecure about their own perceived ability. Obvious talent and skill need not necessarily be present for success, not when one is determined to succeed. This is what Madonna teaches us. Learn from Madonna (only the determined to succeed part, please!) WARNING: Madonna is a force of "pop-culture nature" and extremely rare. Do NOT strive to be like her or you will become snob fodder for eternity (+1).
But enough about Madonna. What about you and your acting career? It's probably true that your friends think you're a good actor. So do, probably, your folks, a few acquaintances, maybe even your acting teacher has grudgingly praised you. Accolades are nice, but take them for what they are - compliments from folks who know you. It's in their nature to say nice things about you. But the truth is, the goal is to get casting directors, directors and producers to say nice things about you. They're a little tougher crowd because it's in their nature to remain completely neutral about your acting ability until they see you perform. You have to try and please THEM. When you waltz into an audition, the folks doing the hiring need to be impressed on several counts and you need to get their attention quickly - like within a nanosecond. Many casting directors are hopeful right up to the moment you open your mouth, then the demerits begin to pile up. It's a tough way to get a job, all around a tough racket, so why not help yourself by doing things that will increase your chances of getting hired? Take acting lessons, learn about the business, and behave professionally when you get a job. Arrive on time, know your lines and be attentive to what's going on. Take small jobs, they often lead to bigger ones. If you're good, I mean all around good (can act, take direction, understand the technical aspects of movie making and are at least somewhat pleasant to be around,) people (perhaps powerful people,) will begin to take notice. If you've got acting talent but behave like a doofus, or are unreliable, that can become you're tagline, as in, "He's good, but flaky." If you're CRISPEN GLOVER and flaky, I guess that's an okay. But if you're Joe Schmoe from Austin, have acting ability, but are goofball on the set or unreliable, it kind of cancels out your talent aspect. Hit your mark and deliver your line is as harsh as it is true. On set decorum applies to everyone - and that means extras, too. I've seen directors or AD's address the problem of inattentive/lazy/combative extras with a directive that goes, roughly speaking, something like this: "Send him/her home." The goal is to not be sent home. The goal is to be described as a good actor, a pro, easy to work with. Producers and directors like that description A LOT.
You can take CHAZZ PALMINTERI's advice and work your tail off by doing all kinds of things to help yourself succeed, or you can rely on a Hollywood miracle like the story of the pretty girl "discovered" at a soda fountain who promptly becomes a star. In this old rags-to-riches story, a talent scout whisks away a pretty blonde (or brunette) before she can finish her banana split at some soda fountain counter. Soon she's completed a screen test, is rifling through a script and chatting with LOUIS B. MAYER like he's her uncle Sol. If this story were a newsreel from the days of yore, the next shot would show her in a pool by a mansion doing the backstroke, a martini balanced on her tummy. She'd wave, and CARY GRANT, wearing a dress and holding a parasol, would wave back (I made that last part up).
This story did actually happen once or twice - perhaps three times. But, really, do you like those fairy tale odds when it comes to your acting career? Chazz wasn't spinning no Bronx Tale when he made his points about hard work translating into Hollywood success for him. Do like Chazz and work it, baby. And if you're really serious, you can do like Madonna and DEMAND success.
Marcos E. Gonzalez has worked in the business for over twenty years, mostly in the camera department. He has worked on many features, including BLOOD SIMPLE, D.O.A. and BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE; and has done a lot of work in TV, including LONESOME DOVE, WALKER TEXAS RANGER, a huge number of TV movies of the week, music videos and industrials. A producer, writer and director, Gonazalez's first feature film is MOHAMMED'S RADIO. He recently produced and directed a documentary on the making of TEXAS: THE BIG PICTURE, an IMAX feature showing at the Bob Bullock State History Museum. Marcos' has his own company now, El Quatro Productions (512-447-4816), which offers full service film and video production. Email Marcos Gonzalez